Eulogy for Mama B

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This is the Eulogy that I delivered at my mother’s, Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” (Hult Cicala) Slocum, memorial at Madera Canyon in Green Valley, Arizona on February 3, 2014.

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My mother, Betsy, was a kind and generous woman who passed away too young.  She was a GENEROUS person and this generosity shone through during her long fight with cancer.  Even though she was in tremendous pain, she always remained considerate and strong and NEVER wanted the attention focused on her.  She wanted everyone to continue on with their lives—in fact, she was more concerned with how WE were doing and if WE were happy.

This generous and loving spirit is evident by the tremendous outpouring of love through visits, flowers, calls, cards—and SOCIAL MEDIA—throughout her illness.  It is also evident by all of you who have traveled great distances and sacrificed your day to come together and celebrate her life.

Today I want to take you on a journey that begins in the Northeast. I will share with you the journey and transformation that my mother embarked on when she relocated from the Delta South to her beloved Sonoran Desert.  Finally, I want to close by sharing the importance of her returning to her roots and what that meant for her healing process.

My mother.  My best friend.  My Soul Mate, Betsy, was born in Doylsetown, Pennsylvania on October 4th, 1947.  Her family—composed of her Father: Paul, Mother:  Ann, Brother:  David, and Sister:  Laura—moved to Tucson when she was young.  She attended Sunnyside High School, the University of Arizona, and Pima Community College.  Somewhere along the way she found herself waitressing at a little family restaurant that some of you may have heard of—Mama Louisa’s.  There she fell in love with the ENTIRE family of Cicala’s and Casadei’s—and then she met and fell in love with my father, Armin.  She raised three children:  My oldest brother: John, Middle brother: Paul, and baby: Me.  Time passed.  Hearts drifted.  Divorce followed.  Painful decisions where made and she found herself with a family divided. Two children relocated to the Southeast when mom remarried.  Paul—I want you to know that mom ALWAYS regretted separating the family.  She dedicated the last 15 years to trying to make things right with you!  She returned to Tucson in 2011.

Before I move forward with the story about a little chapter I have dubbed OPERATION RELOCATION, I want to share with you something that my mother wrote to me in 1996 while I was a sophomore in college.  She was sharing some poetry with me in an effort to help me with some research for an anthology that I would be performing in.

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She writes, 

“Mary Ann, this is one of my favorites.  It explains, to me, the calling I constantly feel—back to Arizona.  Sure, I miss the people, but it’s the land that has a hold on me.”

The Way to Understanding

Within and around these mountains,
your good fortune will be returned to you.

Within and around these mountains,
your peace will be returned to you.

Within and around these mountains,
your freedom will be returned to you.

Within and around these mountains,
your beauty will be returned to you.

All things return to those
who pray for understanding.

All things depart from those
with anger in their hearts.

Mom continues with a closing note, 

20140212-215130.jpg“This sums up how I felt after my camping trip in the White Mountains, how I feel when I think of Madera Canyon or Mt. Lemen, or when I look out on any horizon in Tucson—especially at sunset.  For some reason, I don’t feel grounded, except within the sight of mountains.”

Fast forward to 2011.  I had the great pleasure of being her travel companion in this epic return to Tucson.  And believe me—it was epic.  It was an operation that really deserves a separate speech entirely!

I digress.

I had the great pleasure of being her travel partner on this return.  Along our journey home, Mom shared with me so many stories:  Stories of her childhood.  Stories of her high school years.  Stories of love: lost, found, lost and found again.  Stories of how EACH of YOU here touched her life.

During this trek a question came up about healing.  When I completed my bachelor’s degree in 2000, my mom traveled up to Boston for my commencement.  She stayed for two weeks to help me get settled into my new apartment.  During this time we both embarked on new goals for this new phase of our life.  One goal that we shared was to quit smoking.

My Mom had seen a TV special about this quack doctor hypnotist in Brookline Village—he was known as “The Crazy Russian” and “The Puff Man.”  The appointment took place in his small office with several other smokers.  After a brief lecture on tips, tricks, and self-control, he led us through a visualization that ended with synchronized hand motions in front of our eyes and whispered something empowering -–a private message—in each of our ears.  Now, I have NO RECOLLECTION of the great words he shared with me.  However, Mom remembered what he said to her for years.  He told her that she was “a healer.”

She pondered this on a few occasions during our OPERATION RELOCATION.  And she circled back to this again when she was diagnosed with Stage 3C Ovarian Cancer in April.  She would be struggling with the meaning over the next 6 months.  Mom hoped it meant that she would be healed of this awful disease….wondered if it meant that she could volunteer to serve the sick once she recovered.  You see—that’s the generous spirit of my mother.  Here she is riding a terrible recovery from surgery, going through the constant fatigue and nausea of chemo, and otherwise suffering—and she’s thinking about what SHE can do to ease the burden for other “more sick” strangers.

Well, I will tell you—I have been continuing the search for truth in this sentence, “You are a healer.”  And I came to an important conclusion that my mother IS a healer.  She has healed each of our souls at one time or another.

Betsy made all of us feel so special because she listened both empathically and with a heart wide open.  Countless friends of mine have reached out recently to share their condolences and credit Mom for major decisions in their lives.  One friend wrote this about my Mom,

20140212-215320.jpg“Thank you for being a great example of love for me during a time I was seeking its existence….She was  the first time I had ever witnessed a parent accepting their child as exactly who they are.  Her humor and light felt way of existing in the world was so inspiring for me.  I hoped that my mom would one day embrace our experience together the way you and she did.”

Another high school friend shared this, “Growing up, your mom was the coolest of any other friends’ parents.  Even though I haven’t seen her in years I love her and thank her for the influence she made on me.”

One very close family member wrote this about Mama B, “I love Betsy.  She makes me feel like I can actually be my insecure self and she’ll still like me, not feeling burdened by my insecurities.  During her last visit to Boston she was in a lot of pain, yet she hid it well, smiling through several engagements over the week, some that lasted until midnight.  Beautiful, beautiful woman, few people like her in this world.”

And finally, my mom even had the gift of healing small children.  My sister-in-law wrote to me, “I remember how good natured, gracious and patient your mom was even though she hadn’t been feeling well…. I remember being in awe of her well honed mom skills when she prevented [our nephew] from having a major meltdown in the restaurant.”

All this says to me that, yes, Betsy was AND IS a healer.  I learned from my mother the art of healing:  I learned how important family—both blood and chosen family—can be to heal.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with so many of you—especially her friends from high school.  I learned the importance of listening with an open heart to heal.  I learned that—with the right  approach—I could heal my relationship and distance between me and my brother.  I learned how remaining positive can help us heal during life’s biggest challenges.

Finally, I learned the power of the Sonoran desert in healing my mother.

Mom has this photo of the desert hanging in her bedroom on the wall next to her vanity.  It is really just an advertisement from Tucson Mountain Park.  It talks about the majestic beauty of the mountains, the critters of the desert—everything that we all love about this Arizona landscape.  But I hope you don’t mind humoring me by allowing me to share a few sentences that resonate with me—and that I know resonated with my Mother’s soul:

20140212-221349.jpg…More fascinating is the intangible charm and spell of this desert region where the haze of the distant mountain ranges meet the blue of the sky, and the desert impressive in its cloak of utter silence awaits the nature lover.  Here the breeze from the canyon carries the voice of an unseen power to purify the soul and tune in on the Creator.” –C.B. Brown

When we first embarked on OPERATION RELOCATION I thought it was so Mom could truly live once more.  Now…. I know that the importance and the immediacy of this adventure was for her to “COME HOME” and heal her soul in preparation to “GO HOME.”

Thank you all for being a part of this journey.  Thank you all for being a part of my Mom’s journey.

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Dream WiThOuT FEAR

Dream WiThOuT FEAR

What if failure was not an option?

True, I have lists for everything–just see my bucket list with links to other lists I’m using to track each item. But I have to admit that sometimes I’m so afraid of failure that I have a hard time articulating my dreams. If I wasn’t afraid of this…I guess I’d just DREAM!

Image Credit: Model A Designs

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Never too late for a New Year’s Favorite: Vegetarian Hoppin’ John

Hoppin John

Every year since I’ve lived in Camberville I head over to Red Bones to partake in my New Year’s food tradition.  This year I was coming off of a juice fast and I chose to save my energy (and beat the temptation of making unhealthy choices following a cleanse).   I found this recipe by Kristi M. Jones at Veggie Converter in my search for the perfect vegetarian Hoppin’ John black eyed pea recipe to ensure that my 2013 was filled with good luck (and good health).  This was the perfect balance of traditions as it also included Kale (for money).  I topped it off by making a batch of cornbread muffins to tie the luck and money into one amazing New Year’s Day dinner.

Seriously, folks.  Wuggs is still talking about this.  So it may be time for me to bring a little luck and money back in as we approach the first quarter of the not-so-new year.

Sundays, since the new year, have been my slow cooker cook days.  I’ve tried several new recipes and the best part is that they keep me eating well (and on the cheap) throughout the week with lots of leftovers for lunch.  So when Wuggs thanked me for tonight’s masterpiece and then followed up with a request for the return of Hoppin’ John… I just couldn’t resist.  So this is what I’ll be making for the next “Slow Sunday.”

Crockpot Vegetarian Hoppin’ John

serves 10 and can be frozen

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry black eyed peas, soaked overnight
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 1 pound vegetarian smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 7 oz. can chopped green chiles
  • 1 bunch of collard greens or kale, chopped and ribbed
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 dried hot pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 C cooked rice
Directions
Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Soak your black-eyed peas overnight, drain and rinse in cool water. Alternately, you can put the beans in salted water and boil rapidly for 10 minutes.

Put peas, broth and sausage in the crock-pot. Stir in the chiles, hot pepper and onion. Add greens, and sprinkle on the salts and pepper. Cover and cook on low for 8-12 hours, or until the beans are soft. Stir well and serve over rice.

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Write to Succeed

writeitdown.jpgIt’s the third of February and time, I’ve decided, to check in on the state of my new year’s goals. According to a national survey, nearly nine in ten resolutions won’t make it to February. I just came from a Case District 1 Conference in Boston last week where I learned a lot from the various workshops and met many incredibly dedicated and smart relationship professionals. I’m walking away feeling inspired and excited to continue making progress on my professional and personal goals. I’m not going to let a national survey determine how successful I am at reaching my goals so I am plugging ahead with mindful determination.

I had the great pleasure of attending a leadership talk at this conference presented by Betsy Myers. In addition to being a professional speaker and author of the book, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You, Betsy is the Founding Director of the Center for Women & Business at Bentley University and she is also served as the COO during the 2008 Obama for American Campaign.

My greatest takeaways from her speech are:

  1. If you don’t think you’re a leader, remember this: at the very least, you are leading you own life.
  2. 70% of American workers report not feeling engaged at work. People don’t leave organizations, they leave bosses.
  3. Bottom line — leaders bring out the productive feelings in themselves and their people.
  4. Think about a time when you were most excited about your work. Is that not a time when you felt valued, supported, appreciated?
  5. Check in on how you feel at your job. If we are in a job where we can be our authentic self, we should be “freaking out with joy!”
  6. A key aspect of leadership is honest self-reflection. You must know how your behavior impacts others.
  7. Be honest when you look in the mirror. What are you doing that prevents you from reaching success? How much time do you spend each day on things that aren’t about what success looks like?
  8. What’s your Iowa? What is you purpose and is it seen w clarity. In 2007, Obama’s was to win Iowa primary, and he did. We waste too much time on things that do not lead toward this success.
  9. People live 3-4 months on one compliment; It’s about time we start to put stars in other people’s buckets. We can make a difference!
  10. Write down your goals: those who write their goals down are more likely to achieve them.

Each one of these ten takeaways are deserving of their own blog posts. However, for the sake of sticking to my own goal for this post–and that is checking in on my goals–I am going to focus on this last one. I have found great truth in this: writing my own goals down means that I am more likely to achieve them. Similarly, writing about missing a step along the way of a goal can also serve a very powerful purpose of self-reflection.

I set ten goals for 2013 and I am finding the most success on the ones that I have been deliberately tracking:

  1. I have been engaging in a meditative and mindful practice for a minimum of 10 minutes several times a week. Admittedly, the goal is actually to do this 3 times a week, but I have not kept an exact count. Here is what I’ve done to keep on top of this goal. I work out at my gym 5-6 times a week. Half of these times I will treat myself to warm shower followed by ten minutes in the steam room. It is the ten minutes in the steam room that I spend in meditation. I goes something like this: I count to four over and over as I relax my jaw and my muscles. Thoughts and observations interrupt my count and clear mind. I don’t get frustrated and I don’t nag myself. I simply observe the thought and continue counting. When I leave the steam room I feel both relaxed and energized and at peace with myself and my surroundings.
  2. I have not taken a pottery class. BUT… I have checked the curriculum and schedule for the Fall calendar at the MFA School and I have already put the appointments in my calendar. My calendar is marked so I will be free and available.
  3. I have playing the guitar frequently–but not every day. I’m hoping to work on this goal more but I also did not realize how this goal would affect others in my living space. For now I am pleased with the frequency.
  4. In collaborating and communicating with others I will seek first to understand than to be understood. This is a tough one. I am striving to listen more empathically, but I still need to work on asking better questions to help me understand others better.
  5. I have not even addressed the mess desk situation. Every time I start I fall back into organizing or creating the same crazy piles that I’m trying to get away from. I think I will have to do a “clean sweep” of the desk and start from scratch. I also think that I’m going to have to come in on a weekend day to do this.
  6. Working 0ut HAS been fun and this is the goal that I feel most excited about. I have been taking the best classes and breaking the friend/food cycle by meeting up for activities (like hiking with Randi and Chuck) instead of meeting up for meals. When I’m not taking classes, I’ve allowed myself to watch my favorite movies or TV while on the stationary bike and this has actually increased my cardio from 30 minutes to a full hour (I have to stay on to see the end!).
  7. I have a bag ready to go to Goodwill because I have been putting two things in it for every one thing I bring in the house. The toughest was parting with a 9 year old pair of cowboy boots that I have shared many wonderful experiences with. But the time was right–the boot tips were worn to the point that even a cobbler could not fix them.
  8. Triathlon. That’s right. I almost forgot about this goal. I think my next step will have to be to go to the Danskin website and sign up. Once I’ve registered it will be more real and I’ll have to get better prepared. I must do more swimming. I love/hate swimming.
  9. I have begun to address the best dates with my cousins for planning a cousin lake trip. Two things I have discovered: 1) to create the nostalgia and fun we do not have to necessarily revisit the same lake and 2) this may have to take place in 2014…but nothing is stopping me from doing the planning now.
  10. Courting Wuggs–yes I am. We have enjoyed a few dates this month. And I am including in this our “Slow Sundays” tradition that I have started. Almost every Sunday this month I have prepared a healthy vegetarian dish in the slow cooker. For dinner, I set the table up with the fine china and serve sparkling water in wine glasses, light the candles and set the mood. Wuggs loves this and I love her for loving it. I’m looking forward to celebrating our next big date out on Valentine’s day.

I seriously am the #queenoflists!

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Mindful Success in 2013

Last year I jumped the curb from making no resolutions for several years to going for 12 goals in one year (in honor or 2012).

For better or worse, I am a goal-oriented person.  Without my next goal to strive towards, I run the risk of becoming complacent.  However, in the three or so years leading up to this change in new year’s flow, I rebuked “New Year’s Resolutions” and embraced a theme.  For example, 2010 was “all about fun;” and I met that goal by exploring the things that brought me energy, smiles, enjoyment, and…well…fun.

I have to say that, while I know that goals give me the kick the you-know-what that I need to make important and life-improving changes in my life–the romantic in me loves a good theme.  So for 2013 I’ve embraced this by setting with a theme.

When I strive towards achieving new success, checking off an errand in a “to do list,” or seeking that next proverbial feather to place in my hat, I have a tendency to operate with my peripheral blinders on.  My motion is so singular that I forget to take in the path around me or how actions may be affecting others (and myself).  Sometimes I can get so excited to about fulfilling an important task or making a connection with another person that will lead me to this endgame that I rush into a decision only to realize after its too late that the match was not right and lose precious energy.

Mindfulness

Recognizing these tendencies, I’ve set my theme for 2012:  Mindfulness.

I have a destination, and the goals I’m setting for 2013 will be stops along the way.  However, I pledge this year to appreciate the journey.  My hope is that it will be an enjoyable one–however, if the road gets tough I can better tweak the path if I am in tune with it.

Goals for 2013:

  1. Engage in a meditative and mindful practice for a minimum of 10 minutes at least three times a week.  This can include re-enrolling in a Tai Chi course, attending Restorative Yoga session, or private work.
  2. Take a pottery class (and apply towards #10 on the Bucket List)
  3. Keep the guitar out of the case and play it for 10 minutes every day that I am home.
  4. In collaborating and communicating with others I will seek first to understand than to be understood.
  5. Maintain a clean and organized desk.  Do not leave work without organizing my desk for the next day.
  6. Make working out fun.  Sweat and smile for at least 30 minutes a day.  If I don’t have time for the gym this can be substituted by giving up elevators and getting off one subway stop ahead to encourage walking and climbing.
  7. Release attachment to material possessions and observe the rule of “one in/two out.”  For every new item that I bring into my home I must rid myself of two things.
  8. Train for and compete in at least one sprint triathlon
  9. Coordinate a family reunion vacation spent camping on Apache Lake or Lake Roosevelt where the Hult clan and cousins relive our childhood memories of diving off cliffs into the water, listening to the beach boys until our heads spin, boogie boarding and tubing behind a speedboat, sharing stories around the campfire, and sleeping in lawn chairs under the starry night. (number 23 on the Bucket List)
  10. Court Wuggs.  Plan at least one surprise date night at least once a month dedicated completely to an experience designed just for her.

So here it goes.  I propose a toast to goals that I will approach mindfully in 2013! I will come at these goals by living an energized and balanced life of work, play, and rest.

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Report Card 2012

ImageBefore last night’s Urban Zen photo post, it has been a while since I checked in on The Accidental Optimist. And so the end of 2012 is here and it’s time to take inventory on the goals I set for this year.  I’ll be up front.  I have not met all of my them.  However, I have been living an optimistic life and has been anything BUT accidental. I have been taking active steps towards achieving my happiness.

Sometimes, in the course of living life and working towards goals, I need to be reminded to check in with myself and–with that– this blog.  So I guess that is my one biggest takeaway for the year.   If I had checked in periodically, I might have been able to get back on track or reevaluate my goals for 2012.

And even though I’m dubbing this post “Report Card 2012,” this is not a pass/fail test.  It’s all about the journey.  At the beginning of the year I issued myself a series goals for 2012.  This will be a long post as I plan to go through all of them…

1.  Live an energized and balanced life of work, play, and rest

I have found some success in this by exploring the things that make me happy and prioritizing this in how I spend my time. It also helped that during the months of July and August I spent my vacation time by taking Mondays off and working a four day work week.

To continue to find this balance I need to commit more to work efficiently at my job so I won’t feel behind in my weekly “to do” list. When I return to the office in January, I will review our departmental plan for the year with the objective of staying focused at work and keeping on track.

2. Begin a regular and weekly meditative and mindful practice such as Tai Chi or restorative Yoga

Last spring I enrolled in an 8 week Tai Chi class. I enjoyed this moving meditation and I plan to enroll again this spring and continue the practice. In the meantime, I will try to commit to a meditation schedule of at least three times a week and I have found great love for the mediation of Metta Loving Kindness.

3.  Take a pottery class at MFA School (and apply towards #10 on the Bucket List)

I did not get to this. So I will keep it on my list for next year.

4.  Make new friends and build community with Wuggs

I’ve covered the first part if this by making new friends through improv. In the course of completing my improv goals I found a community as a few of us formed an independent improv team.  I have since stepped down from the team because my work and travel schedule forced me to miss too many rehearsals.  But I love supporting them and connecting outside of shows.

Wuggs and I made a couple new acquaintances through introductions and shared events so now it is time to cultivate these into friendships.  Plus, an old friend moved back in town and I will reach out to her and get some time on both of our calendars.

5.  Enjoy one green smoothy a day (or the equivalent of raw green veggies)

Uh oh. Goal dropped. I started 2012 off so well. So well, in fact, that I grew tired of my green smoothies too fast. But I realize that I don’t necessarily have to have a green smoothy as my vitamix is also good for making healthy soups and other recipes.  The soups may be steaming–but I think they still fall into a “raw diet.”

6.  Enroll in an intermediate swim class

Success!  I completed a swim class through Harvard Athletics. It was tough work to get myself out of bed early on a Saturday for 8 weeks and dedicate an hour and a half to swimming laps and improving my freestyle stroke but it paid off. I learned that this is possibly the most rewarding physical activity for me. It is an aerobic exercise that works my entire body and burns so many calories. Furthermore, the workout buzz I get from swimming make me swim in feel good endorphins for the entire day.

7. Minimum of one camping trip in the spring or summer with Randi-pants

Done! In August I went with Randi to Brownfield, ME and camped on the Sacco River.

8.  Compete in at least one sprint triathlonDanskin_Triathlon_2012

Success. I participated in the Danskin Sprint Triathlon in Webster, MA in July.  It was an amazing experience!  And like all good physical challenges that take months of training and preparation, I learned so much about myself. For one, I learned that doing a sprint triathlon is enough for me. At one time I had wanted to participate in an Olympic sized triathlon. However, I have since adjusted this bucket list item and I am content with having completed just the sprint. It is important to recognize one’s physical limitations.  It was such an adrenaline rush, though, and I plan to participate in at least one sprint triathlon per year.

9.  Complete all improv comedy class levels at ImprovBoston and perform in a minimum of 3 improv shows.

I am now, officially, an alumna of the Improv Boston Improv classes.  After a group of us formed a team last spring, we performed in several shows.  I am very grateful to Wuggs and all my family and friends who came to support me!

10.  Complete my strategic plan for life (I’ve been promising myself this one since 2008!)

Talk about the final sprint…  I just completed this today.  This blog, in essence, is the recorded operation of it.  Though I don’t include everything for the world to see, I take stock before most posts.

11.  Begin exploring massage schools & requirements for certification.

I did explore this very briefly.  But I also realized after a bit of investigation that I just wasn’t ready to commit to this particular goal–at least not in 2012.  I may come back to it in time.

12.  Return to Key West with Wuggs to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary (#96 on the Bucket List).

I met up with Wuggs in Key West on December 19th and spent the week there.  We watched the Mayan Calendar end from a beach and state park near the Southern Most Point in the U.S. and spent Christmas Day on a boat where we explored the Gulf of Mexico where it meets the Atlantic Ocean through snorkeling and kayaking around mangrove islands.  All the while, I was on a Media Fast wherein I restricted myself from: e-mail, all social media and internet, movies, TV, newspapers and magazines.  It was a very much needed R&R and important time to catch up with my wife and lady love.

2012:  You’ve been a good year.  9 for 12 success is not so bad.  I hope that the goals I set for 2013 are even better matched so that I can enjoy 100% success.

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Let the juicing begin with Urban Zen

I’m kicking off a three day juice fast tomorrow. Pictured here are the ingredients to make 64 ounces of Urban Juice. I sampled my first cup tonight and I’m pretty sure that I felt all the cells in my body perking with excitement.

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